Robert C. (Bob) Barton Jr., proud son of Central Texas, family man, newspaperman, politician, friend and mentor to many – and a staunch believer in social justice as a basic right for all – died January 19, the birthdate of one of his heroes, Martin Luther King Jr. He was 82.
His death, of congestive heart failure, also came a few days before the second inauguration of President Barack Obama, a leader whose election four years ago served to affirm Barton’s undying faith in his country as a nation of fairness and equality.
Barton served in the Texas House of Representatives, but he was known throughout Central Texas as an influential political operative who mentored, advised and supported numerous candidates who became successful officeholders. He had a fascination with demographics before that word joined the political lexicon and he was known to accurately predict the outcome of a local election before the polls closed based solely on the number of people who had voted in certain key precincts.
He was an unabashed liberal and lifelong Democrat who believed deeply in the promises of FDR’s New Deal, JFK’s idealism and LBJ’s Great Society. He was a strong supporter of full participation in the political process of Hispanics, African Americans, women, students and other minorities, which often led to strong disapproval from those in the political establishment who saw him as a traitor to his roots. He was also a staunch supporter of education and was proud of his role in the effort to form the Hays Consolidated Independent School District.
Bob Barton’s populist roots in Central Texas and Hays County were deep. He was born on April 5, 1930 in Austin – because there was no hospital in Buda – to long-time Buda residents Robert C. Barton and Marietta Fly Barton. His father was a rancher and superintendent of the Buda School District. A product of the Buda schools, Barton earned a teaching degree from Texas State University and served in the U.S. Army during the Korean conflict, stationed in Germany.
Bob and Wynette Word of Kyle were married in 1955 and had two sons, Jefferson Word, a businessman who served two terms as Precinct 2 County Commissioner, and David Gilbreath Slaughter, a writer and professor at Northern New Mexico College in Española, north of Santa Fe. Wynette is a Jungian psychoanalyst practicing in Kyle and Austin.
In 1952, Barton and close friend Moe Johnson entered the newspaper world with the purchase of the Kyle News, which eventually became a county-wide award-winning newspaper known as the Hays County Citizen. After selling The Citizen in 1978, Barton established what is now the Hays Free Press, a consistent award winner in regional and statewide newspaper contests. Over the years, Barton mentored and encouraged numerous journalists who went on to successful careers in the field. He was a strong defender of the First Amendment but also believed that a newspaper had an obligation to treat its readers and community with respect.
In 1998, Barton combined his love of history, politics and newspapers to produce a highly readable history, in newspaper form, of Hays County from the Indian days to the arrival of the railroad.
Among his heroes were principled politicians such as the late U.S. Sen. Ralph Yarborough and Isaac Julian, the crusading publisher of the San Marcos Free Press in the 1870s.
An avid historian and lover of Central Texas lore, Barton devoted the last several years of his life to historical research, in addition to writing occasionally for the Hays Free Press.
Barton was preceded in death by his parents, as well as parents-in-law, W.A. (Lex) Word and Bobbie Word of Kyle, and sister Barbara Barton Younts and his aunt and uncle Elizabeth and John Porter.
In addition to his wife and sons, he is survived by his daughters-in-law Cyndy Slovak-Barton and Jolana Janisova-Barton and grandchildren Zachary Alexander, Mary Rose Bozena, Katrina Wynette (Katka) and Jakub Sterling Adam (Kuba).
Other survivors are Nancy (Word) and John Osgood of Austin and their family; Jane (Word) and Calvin Kirkham and their family; nephews Clint and Amy Younts and family; Clay and Diana Younts and their family; niece Kathy Flake and Randy and their family; and many beloved friends and former employees.
A public memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, January 26 at the Old Rock Gym on the Kyle Elementary Campus in Kyle. A luncheon will follow.
In lieu of flowers please send contributions to Friends of the Kyle Library, P.O. Box 2349, Kyle, TX 78640 or Hays County Democratic Party, P.O. Box 1245, Buda, TX 78610.